“There we’ve been, battling away, laying the foundations for the next generations,” said Monica Ocampo, with a chuckle, and the 29-year-old's story does, in large measure, reflect the evolution of Mexican women’s football. The striker – who has appearances at two FIFA Women’s World Cups™ and the Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004 under her belt – belongs to a crop of players who, when starting out, dovetailed with the country’s leading women’s football pioneers.
It is now the turn of Ocampo and her contemporaries to prepare to pass the baton themselves, in a country where the women’s game is gradually gaining ground, fighting for every forward step. “I was fortunate enough to coincide with great players like Maribel Dominguez, Monica Vergara and Monica Gonzalez,” she told FIFA.com. “I took part in two or three tournaments alongside them.”
Then very much a “newbie” in the squad, Ocampo set about trying to establish herself in El Tri’s senior set-up, on the back of years spent struggling to bring her dream to life. “I played in boys’ teams from the age of six, when I started, right through to 15,” she explained. “And I used to be insulted by watching parents, things like ‘how’s a girl going to play better than my son’ or that I should ‘get back in the kitchen’… It was sad, but I think it made me stronger.”
The support of her family proved fundamental. “I always say that I’ve got where I am thanks to my parents and brothers. I’ve got four brothers and I’m the youngest and the only girl. They were always playing football, they’d take me with them and, as the saying goes, the student surpassed the master and I ended up better than them!” she added, laughing again.
A pivotal moment However, it was an experience gained aged 19, at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Russia 2006, that definitively convinced Ocampo she had a future in football. “That tournament was where I got my foot in the door, because afterwards I was called up to the senior squad. At that competition I established myself and told myself that ‘I want to keep this going’. It was a great experience.”
Off the pitch too that trip to Russia gave rise to the odd curious anecdote, such as a wayward journey on the Moscow underground… “One evening we were given permission to go out and one of my friends wanted to try travelling on the Moscow metro. We didn’t know any Russian and we couldn’t read any of the signs, so we ended up spending a few hours getting lost and even got fined!”
In footballing terms Ocampo also coincided with players she would later meet again at senior level, such as Germany duo Celia Sasic and Nadine Kessler and United States’ Tobin Heath, the latter also a team-mate during one of her spells in US football. Part of the Azteca squad too at Russia 2006 was Charlyn Corral, Ocampo’s main attacking associate for Mexico in recent years.
“I’ve known her for nearly a third of my life!” exclaimed Ocampo. “We speak about this when we get together, that we’re virtually the only two players left from that team in Russia. We’ve shared some great moments and I really admire her, she’s a top player.”
On Russian soil she fulfilled her ambition to score at a global showpiece and, at the time, told FIFA.com that "I hope this isn't the only World Cup we play at!" She need not have not worried.
The gifted front-runner subsequently took part in the senior Women's World Cups at Canada 2015 and previously Germany 2011, where she scored a memorable goal against England – a right-foot effort into the top corner from distance – that earned Mexico a historic first point at the competition. "That was one of the most important goals I've scored in my career. Not just for the goal itself, but for what it meant for the team.”
Leading by example In spite of such achievements, her career path has still not been smooth, Ocampo obliged to continue to fight to pursue her dream and make her way in the game. After two years at US club Sky Blue, this year she has found herself without a club, not that she has been standing idle. "I started a degree in physical education, where I'm preparing to be a coach, and I'm taking part in an amateur girls' team. I'm player-coach, it's twice the work!" She said, with a broad smile.
When with her young charges she tries to get across the value of the work ethic that has got her this far, in a bid to help them make the most of their opportunities. "Sometimes they don't want to come to training and I tell them that even if you really want something, if you don't work hard you won't make it. And they have things easier now. How I'd have loved to have a coach at their age! It makes me a touch jealous, but in a good way, and when I talk to them I can tell I've got through, because their effort levels go up."
And despite her steps towards the world of coaching, Ocampo is keen not to hang up her boots yet, remaining confident that once a new Mexico coach is named – to replace the departed Leonardo Cuellar – that she will be called up to El Tri again. Also high up on her wishlist is the revival of a long-yearned for project: the creation of a Mexican women's league.
"That's the best thing that could happen to us," said Ocampo, a tireless campaigner both in her career and for the future of Mexican women's football, as the conversation drew to a close. "If we're able to qualify for World Cups and Pan-American Games now, without a league, if we had one Mexican football would come on in leaps and bounds."